What's your violin's story?
A recent post in the violin identification thread about a history of one's violin got me wondering. How many Vcommers have a violin with an interesting history that has been passed down, or can be passed down in the future, that they would like to share with the rest of us? Theses days I need a good story! :)
This is a great question!
I have two violins. One is a Jay Haide bought new in 2003 as my #2 violin for lessons, practice, and folk music, with some orchestral playing, but I'm now seriously considering using it as my main symphony violin, the more I get to know it. Its tone is coming out well with Warchal Amber strings, and its playability has always been good.
I think the most interesting part of my violin's history is the fact that the maker, Samuel Shen, was evicted from his apartment for leaving his works out to dry all over the building. His neighbours complained of the smell. Now I think he runs a factory in China where they make Del Gesu copies.
My present violin is a 2006 Topa, so it doesn't really have a lot of history. My previous violin was a 1972 Claude Watson. Watson was known as a part-time guitar-maker, and when he retired from his day job (whatever that was, some kind of white-collar work in San Diego), he took up violin making. Mine is No. 24. The violin is awful -- it was overbuilt -- but beautiful to look at (birds-eye with bright orange varnish).
My previous violin's previous owner had purchased it from Frank Passa's shop in San Francisco. It still had one of Frank Passa's bridges on it when I purchased it. I encountered his daughter on a Facebook violin group. It was kind of cool that she remembered that particular instrument!
My current favourite violin that I've only had for a year cost rather little at an auction sale. It has a label dated 1809 from the retailer who first sold it at an address in St Paul's Churchyard London, one of the historic centres of English violin-making. So my violin was made in the midst of the Napoleonic wars and middle-period Beethoven!
Steve, Charles Harris may indeed have been entitled to call himself "Lord Harris" if he became "Lord of the Manor" when he inherited the estate, if it was a manorial estate.
Trevor, that is so interesting about your violin's history! I think it makes sense that it could have been owned by the Irish professional fleeing even if it was his means of income, because people were hungry enough to do anything! What a treasure you have to pass on to your daughter.
Trevor - Harris's mates were being sarcastic! There was no hereditary title and the "Manor House" he had built looks more like a workhouse. But within the village (Steeple Aston) there's still a Harrisville (in fact just a row of cottages) and a Harris Stores.
No fancy history on my violins. Just my own history of how I acquired them. I have 4 violins, I will mention 3 that has a personal history:
Not a violin but a bow.
I'll share my story once again.
I have several fiddles.
Two instruments, a modern American viola (but still older than me) and a mid-20th-century German workshop violin. As might be fairly common among American string players, it's the less valuable instrument that is the family heirloom.
My favorite violin was made in my home town in Aug. 1943 by James R. Carlisle.
When I lived on the isle of Eigg in the Hebrides of Scotland, a fiddle maker used to visit over the summer and I would play violin with his wife, while he sat and carved a scroll. His wife would give each violin a name and this was beautifully drawn in ink, inside, before construction. I couldn't possibly afford to buy one of his instruments at that time, but many years later, remembering him, I wrote a letter requesting a violin. I chose one that he had available but still couldn't afford the whole price so he allowed me to pay in three parts. Amazingly he trusted me enough to send the violin in a hand made wooden packing case, and it safely arrived, over 30yrs ago Duncan and his wife have passed away, but the 'The Strath Bran' is still singing.......
Both my instruments (violin and viola) had to wait for me about ten years until finally I circumnavigated the inhospitabilities of life and allowed myself to make a childhood dream come true. I cannot tell stories about family heirlooms or spectacular pedigree, but definitively a story of love and rousing passion.
My daughter’s young violin is all about connections to people and places. As a junior in high school, she reached out to Kelvin Scott for a violin. He had nothing on hand, but he had access to a fiddle whose owner was leaving the profession. She eventually purchased it through Mr. Scott, who told us that the previous owner had used it in grad school with a very well-known teacher who had really liked the violin. We also realized he was a (formerly) prolific violinist.com contributor. She subsequently did her undergrad in Tennessee about 2.5 hours away from the fiddle’s Knoxville birthplace – I like to think it engineered the homecoming. Several years later, she went off to grad school (where she is now), and she's studying with the same teacher who taught the previous owner. Coincidence? I think not.
One of my 2 violins was made by the Lethbridge Alberta Luthier and fiddle player Ed Dietrich. At one time, Ed played with the back up band for the Canadian singing duo Ian and Sylvia. He was so taken with the violin played by the duo's regular player that he borrowed it and copied it. The original instrument was from Craig's violins in Aberdeen, Scotland. This copy is the one that I own, just because it bears my mother's maiden name of Craig. While not my orchestra violin, it is a very nice fiddle.
I have only been playing violin for a year, though I have played guitar and tenor banjo for a long, long time. My violin is Hungarian and at twelve hundred and fifty quid didn’t cost much compared to some of the instruments on here, a lot of money for me, but it’s good enough.The luthier however who sold it to me and lives up the road in Liverpool Michael Phoenix can tell a great tale however, if you ever go into his shop ask him about his holiday in Egypt, he’s a typical scouser very funny and can spin a yarn about anything.
I posted this ten years back in a similar thread.
The family heirloom violin came with a story, or a myth. It was a Maginni copy with double purfling, an inlaid picture of an old town on the back, a bearded old man for a scroll, a Latin inscription around the side, and a peacock on the tailpiece. It was supposedly taken from a captured Confederate soldier during the 1864 Red River campaign by my great-great grandfather, who was the principal musician (sergeant-major band leader) of a regiment from Indiana. The truth was that it was not a good violin, probably a late 19th German factory copy. It was too lightly constructed, had a brittle sound, and one day the neck block collapsed. I gave it to my nephew who did a D.I.Y. repair. Soldiers on the march will travel as lightly and compactly as possible. They will not add a violin and case to their back-pack, but you will see occasional photos of fiddles in permanent camps, between campaigns.
I have several older fiddles with potentially interesting backgrounds, but my oldest viola is the one for which I stand the best chance of filling in some blanks. Two American luthiers who've worked on it say that it's almost certainly a German trade instrument made sometime between 1910 and 1920. The only legible label in it is from an S. Kadosov in Sverdlovsk (transliterated from the Cyrillic). I haven't been able to find out anything about him. The year on the label is either 1957 or 1987; I can't quite tell. The instrument is about 40.5cm on the back, rather shallower than I would have expected, and has undergone several repairs plus one apparent modification. It feels and sounds much better than it has any right to.
For Malcolm Turner - The maker for Rushworth and Dreaper may have been Richmond Henry Bird. I am soon to receive his #57 (1913) on trial from a dealer. I'd be interested in whatever additional details you might offer about your instrument. A private message is OK if you don't think it would be of general interest.
The special violin I have the pleasure of playing on and owning has a short back-story. A new luthier had opened up a shop in our city without us knowing about and a friend asked if we knew anything about him. We didn't know anything, so I brought in an inexpensive bow for him to rehair. He had a small retail office but his workshop is back at his house. I looked around at the violins and noticed one fancy looking one but didn't give it another thought.
David, I saw the pictures of the tree of life violin, and it looks really amazing! I have never seen anything like it.
Thanks -- I feel really special every time I play it.
@David Bailey, that violin looks incredible, truly beautiful no doubt about it, is the fingerboard flat to the body it’s hard to tell from the pictures, have you got any videos of it being played I would love to hear it. I am only a very beginner myself, I play guitar and banjo mostly so I am no expert but I know what I like the look of and that is stunning.
I don't have any videos of it being played. I'm not good enough to share videos of my playing and my wife doesn't want to be recorded. I'm not sure what you mean by "flat to the body" but I can say that it has the normal angle following the neck and there is about 2cm of height above the belly of the violin at the end of the neck. The neck does not touch the top of the violin at all contrary to the way a guitar's neck is attached to the top of the guitar.
Not interesting but here it is. I bought my violin and bow from the woman I carpooled with in college when I was 18 in late 1983. It was the violin she played in high school. She had gotten a new violin for college. The violin was brought in white (unvarnished) to Reeve Violins in Longmont CO. I believe the violin came from Germany. Reeve's put on a gorgeous honey colored varnish. The bow has no name but is really quite good. For a higher end student model, the violin sounds good and works well. It will play all the repertoire well. I have only ever run into one instrument in a similar price range that I would consider trading it for. (One of my students bought that violin.) And I have to jump several price levels before I find instruments I like better.